Istanbul (AsiaNews) – In a statement that evokes the obscurantist despotism of the Ottoman Empire, the Governor of Istanbul recently intervened in an issue under ecclesiastical jurisdiction, saying that it was "legally impossible" to elect the Armenian Patriarch, with serious implications for the process.
“Considering the unfavourable developments that took place during the meeting on February 16 at the patriarchate, it is determined that starting the election process is legally impossible given the facts that this process might cause disturbance and divisions in the society, that there is already an incumbent vicar and that your society knows the basic proceedings and practices concerning the patriarchal election,” said the governor in a statement signed by the deputy governor of the Turkish metropolis.
Such interference by Turkey’s secular state in the affairs of the Armenian Church is in complete violation of the Treaty of Sevres establishing peace between the Allied Powers and the Ottoman Empire signed in August 1920 after World War I. It is also nothing new. However, Turkey's meddling had had never been so direct nor reached such high levels in such a tactless and undiplomatic manner.
The Istanbul patriarchal seat has been vacant since the former office holder, Mesrob II Mutafyan, was declared to be "affected by Alzheimer" At the Synod in 2016 he was retired in accordance with the canon law of the Armenian Church because the disease "had lasted for over eight years".
The Turkish government welcomed the patriarch’s illness. The latter, who was trained in Germany, the United States and in Rome, was always seen him as a person of great charisma and honesty, someone incorruptible.
In 2016 Diyarbakir native Archbishop Aram Ateşyan was called to lead the Patriarchate as vicar general. Along with a 25-member ecclesiastical Council, he ran the religious affairs of the Armenian Church in Turkey ahead of the election of a new patriarch.
In less than a year, Archbishop Aram Ateşyan indicated time and again that he was not really interested in maintaining the independence of the Armenian Patriarchate of Istanbul from the government. Instead, on several occasions he strongly aligned himself with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his party – even on the issue of Armenophobia – sparking criticism and raising suspicions in the local Armenian community and Armenian language press as well as among the Armenian diaspora.
Agos, Turkey’s only Armenian language newspaper, citing local sources, reported that the statement by the Governor of Istanbul "was prepared before the meeting to elect the vicar". The paper’s founder, Hrant Dink, was brutally murdered in one of the most mysterious and murky cases in the country’s recent history that saw the investigation often hampered by those in power, amid alleged plots linking Turkey’s military secret services, police, politicians, Grey Wolves and ultra-nationalist groups.
On 15 March, the Clerical Assembly met to elect the değabah, the lieutenant, responsible once elected for the process of choosing the new patriarch.
Three candidates were up for the post, all Turkish nationals under Turkish law: the current vicar general of the Patriarchate, Archbishop Aram Ateşyan (pictured with his "friend" Erdogan), Bishop Sahag Mashalian, and a third candidate, the Armenian Apostolic primate of Germany, Archbishop Karekin Bekdjian. For unknown reasons, the second candidate pulled out at the last moment, leaving only the other two.
Various people present at the meeting spoke to AsiaNews noting that immediately after the vote count, following the announcement of Archbishop Bekdjian’s victory for the office of vicar, Archbishop Aram Ateşyan left the assembly.
A few moments later he came back with the statement of the Governor of Istanbul in his hands. After the accident, the two candidates withdrew to talk behind closed doors whilst many Clerical Assembly members spoke of a clash between local authorities and Archbishop Ateşyan.
It is widely believed that Archbishop Ateşyan had the statement all along, and that he would not have used it had he come first for the office of patriarch.
The clerical Assembly organised a group to meet the governor to show him how the election took place and defend the legitimacy of the process.
Under existing rules, adhered to by the patriarch, Archbishop Bekdjian (pictured) is the vicar general chosen ahead of the election for the new patriarch. By contrast, the Turkish government already sees Archbishop Ateşyan as the future Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul. (PB)